William Shawcross is right: Islamists are skilled at lawfare


Originally published in Spectator Blogs

Regular readers may recall the charming group ‘Cage’. This is the organisation which made headlines earlier this year when Mohammed Emwazi (aka ‘Jihadi John’) was outed as one of their associates. The response of ‘Cage’ was to extol what a ‘beautiful’ young man Jihadi John was, and claim that if it weren’t for Britain’s security services their friend would never have thought of cutting off infidel heads in the Syrian desert.

After that PR low, the Charity Commission suggested that UK charities like the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust might be unwise to continue shelling out hundreds of thousands of pounds to the group. There are strict rules in the UK about the activities of charities. Whether funding Jihadi John’s friends is a useful charitable objective is, one would have thought, at the very least much in question. But although Cage is one of those Islamist organisations which doesn’t seem to think very much of Britain or British law, it does know how to use such customs for their own benefit.

Sure enough, Cage decided to take the Charity Commission to the High Court for a judicial review. The JRCT then jumped on Cage’s side in the case. During this process Cage were able to get the Commission to produce any and all emails about them. In what Cage have portrayed as a ‘victory’ they discovered that emails between officials at the Charity Commission included one which referred to the group as ‘terrorist-supporting’. In one email the Commission’s Chair, William Shawcross, reportedly warned Charity Commission board members that Cage, ‘like all Islamists, are very skilled at lawfare, in particular libel litigation.’

But at the High Court yesterday Cage decided not to have their day in court and withdrew their case following a statement by the Commission that it ‘does not seek to fetter charities’ exercise of discretion whether to fund the charitable activities of Cage for all time, regardless of future changing circumstances’. The Lord Chief Justice rightly stated that it was ‘ludicrous’ that the case had ever come this far.

Some people may wonder how an organisation like Cage can afford to fund expensive lawyers to bring baseless and frivolous cases like this before the High Court – cases which they must know will not stand up. Perhaps the organisation still has reserves of cash from the munificent funding of the JRCT and others. And we will all have to continue wondering how it was ever possible for the JRCT, a charity founded on Quaker principles, which include non-violence, to end up so magnificently funding a group like Cage which would appear to take other attitudes towards that whole subject.

But after their withdrawal from the case at the very last moment, it is abundantly obvious that Cage was using the avenues open to them in the British courts and indeed using the legal processes of these islands for their own purposes. In fact the whole thing wholly vindicates what Shawcross said – that the group are Islamists who are indeed very skilled at lawfare. What happened at the High Court proves that the Charity Commission’s chairman was absolutely right from the start.


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